Nepali Times
The vision thing

Sanduk Ruit was born in Olangchungola, an area so deprived and remote that the nearest school was a week's walk away. There were no health posts, and Ruit's sister died of TB when he was 17.

That painful loss convinced the young Ruit to go into medicine. With hard work and perseverance he completed medical school in India and returned to Nepal. Working on the Nepal Blindness Survey in 1980 brought him in touch with his Australian mentor, Fred Hollows. As Hollow's prot?g?, Ruit found his mission in life: to make Nepalis see again.

The doctor faced resistance from the medical establishment and fellow eye surgeons in Kathmandu. But Ruit took that and government inefficiency as givens. He asked himself: what can I do despite the government, how can I bypass the naysayers?

Hollows taught Ruit the latest cataract micro-surgery technique using implanted intraocular lenses. But Ruit also learnt a sense of service, and decided to take his knowledge to the poorest of the poor. He walked across the remotest regions of Nepal conducting eye camps, restoring the sights of tens of thousands of people.

Often, elderly cataract patients would burst into tears when they saw their children again after many years. Ruit was innovating all the time, trying to reduce infections and invented a suture-less procedure that made surgery and recovery quicker.

He opened the Tilganga Eye Centre in 1994 and this has become the primary eye-care facility in Nepal, managing six centres across the country. In Kathmandu, Tilganga treats 3,000 patients a week and surgery fees are waived for the neediest. At the nearby Pashupati cremation site, Tilganga runs an eye collection centre for retinal transplants from donors.

Tilganga manufactures high-quality intraocular lenses and has exported over 1.5 million of them all over the world. Ruit himself is now better known outside Nepal than here, having taken cataract camps to North Korea, Tibet, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

On Thursday, Ruit received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2006 in Manila from the Philippines president. In its citation, the Magsaysay Foundation said Ruit was recognised for placing Nepal at the forefront of developing safe, effective, and economical procedures for cataract surgery, enabling the needlessly blind in even the poorest countries to see again.

If sometimes we feel hopeless about our country's future we just need to look at the work of visionary Nepalis like Ruit. They didn't sit around and complain about getting no help from government, or just talk about injustice, order people around and pontificate about how things should be.

There are many Sanduk Ruits in Nepal, and we often feature them in these pages: people who work quietly and selflessly with their only reward being a sense of inner fulfilment that their work has improved the lives of neediest Nepalis.

We are glad Sanduk Ruit's work was recognised abroad, and hope it will inspire Nepalis in other fields to become like him.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)